There’s still time for talk over Ukraine, but Western minds remain closed

Feb 1, 2022
Marise Payne
Strident warning to Russia: Foreign Minister Marise Payne. (Image: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, pool)

Anti-Russian stereotypes again dominate the discourse. Western information warriors believe they have manouevred Russia into a no-win situation.

The US and Russia last week ended six weeks of high-level diplomatic negotiations, sparked off by written proposals sent by the Russian Government to the US Government, and on the same day made public, for new US-Russian mutual security guarantee treaties in Europe.

The Russian proposals involved winding back of strategic changes in Europe that have developed incrementally, to Russia’s profound and growing disadvantage, over the past 30 years.

It would be nice to report some progress over the past six weeks of intense US-Russian diplomacy: but this is not the case.

The two sides’ basic differences on European security, previously glossed over by the West in vague assurances over many years, are now nakedly exposed. They now appear irreconcilable.  The failure of these talks brings increased strategic uncertainties and risks to global security. Putin has said he will consider Russia’s next move in his own time.

The Western political class is in meltdown over alleged imminent Russian aggression against Ukraine. Western permanent members have called a  UN Security Council meeting. This is good. Wars of words in the Security Council usually signify the risk of war on the ground has eased. Russia will inevitably veto the Western resolution and the West will denounce them for this.

How did we get here?

The first meeting on January 10 between US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov produced agreement to a higher-level round between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on January 21. Between these rounds the US held counterpart talks with NATO.

It was clear from the Sherman-Ryabkov round that the West refused to entertain the key Russian proposal: for NATO to pledge to cease all efforts to expand into Ukraine and Georgia. Sherman and Jens Stoltenberg (Secretary -General of NATO) offered insultingly to delay consideration of these memberships for 20 years.

The US and NATO rejected the second and third-priority Russian proposals: that NATO guarantee not to deploy missile batteries in nations bordering Russia, and to end NATO military and naval exercises in nations and seas bordering Russia. Sherman asserted, and Stoltenberg and Western media echoed, that all NATO members have equal rights to install whatever weapons and conduct whatever exercises they choose on their territories and with whatever allies they choose.

Even more offensively, they suggested Russia consider a mutual pullback of forces to an agreed equal distance from the NATO-Russia border!  All that was left from the Russian list was talks to restore the treaty covering intermediate-range nuclear weapons, abrogated by the US in 2019, and support for an ongoing East-West security dialogue.

What Russia had proposed as a total security package was thus redefined by the West as a smorgasbord from which they could pick and choose to their taste.

The Blinken-Lavrov meeting was short. It produced no new Western thinking: only a US commitment to respond in writing to the Russian proposed treaties by Wednesday, January 26. The US side fulfilled this commitment.

The US and NATO responses have already been widely circulated, or leaked, by both governments. The US response made some effort to be polite: the NATO response was simply aggressive.

The Russian invasion narrative

Meanwhile, over the past month the leading Anglosphere liberal Empire media (The Economist, The Guardian, The Washington Post and The New York Times) have been busy, repackaging the Western mainstream narrative away from the Russian proposed treaties and towards an alleged imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In vain have Russian diplomats denied any intention to invade Ukraine, repeating that Russia has the right to deploy its own forces towards its own borders and within its own territory, as a warning to any who might seek to break what is left of the 2015 Minsk Accords ceasefire between Kiev and Donbass, and trying to seize the Donbass by force while the world is distracted by the Winter Olympics in China. Russia has made clear it would not tolerate ethnic cleansing of the Donbass Russian-speaking communities.

Lavrov reported to the Russian Duma (parliament) on January 26 that Moscow ‘would not sit idly by’, as the West supplies Kiev with lethal weapons, after Ukraine had taken delivery the day before of 79 tons of arms.  On January 28 he made Russia’s position crystal clear, saying

‘If it depends on Russia, then there will be no war [over Ukraine].  We don’t want wars. But we also won’t allow our interests to be rudely trampled on or ignored.’

The Duma reacted angrily to Lavrov‘s briefing. A senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee said Washington’s unsatisfactory response had freed Russia to do whatever it saw as necessary.  Russia, he stressed, had laid out specific red lines concerning the non-expansion of NATO, and if the United States was unwilling to meet them, ‘then we will expand our positions.’

This is clearly the dominant mood in Russia.  Russians who follow foreign affairs are fed up with Western mendacious diplomacy, and with the West‘s latest stupidity, in not seeing that the mutual security guarantees proposed by Russia would have been in every European country’s interest. Russians are sick of Western games. They just want to forget about foreign affairs and get on with their lives. Sanctions hold no fears for them now.

How the Western narrative shut down the new Russian proposals

Anti-Russian and anti-Putin stereotypes again dominate Western mainstream commentary. In Australia, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and her Labor rival Penny Wong competed to stridently warn Russia against invading Ukraine. Neither mentioned the Minsk Accords.

Not even the Russian publication six weeks ago of their draft mutual security treaty texts was able to shake Western media out of their customary lazy Russian aggression narrative: showing the power of the Western information warfare propaganda in closing Western minds.

Western information warriors are concluding they have manouevred Russia into a no-win situation. If Russia is provoked by Kiev atrocities against Donbass citizens into invading Ukraine, it will be proof of Russian aggressiveness. If they do not invade, it will be presented as a win for Western toughness, in deterring ‘another Munich’.

At the state level, Russian foreign policy will now strengthen its focus on the East and the South. This was already shown in their decisive suppression (with Collective Security Treaty Organisation allies) of the recent Western-supported attempted coup in Kazakhstan. The Beijing Winter Olympics will give Putin and Xi more opportunities to cement their growing ties.

One good thing coming out of these six weeks is that France has reactivated the 2014 Minsk Accords – the only possible basis for a settlement in Donbass. Ukrainian President Zelensky could no longer ignore that commitment to respect minority rights in Ukraine. Also, several significant Western European leaders – including President Emmanuel Macron of France, and Olaf Scholz, the new German Chancellor — are now developing their own independent dialogues with Russia, making clear that NATO does not speak for Europe.

In sum, we see here another case — familiar since 2014 — of how the Five Eyes Anglophone West is mired in its own false information narrative: as it was with the Maidan Coup and the war in Syria.

The West has utterly failed to see the opportunities for lasting peace in Europe that Putin offered six weeks ago. The West has convinced itself that what is really a policy failure is a Western diplomatic triumph.

The momentum towards a colder Cold War continues. Biden, unlike Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the 1980s, has done nothing to lead the US towards a better relationship with Russia.

Putin won’t now invade Ukraine unless forced to by attacks on Russian-speaking Ukrainians. He is satisfied that Western military planners know now that Russia would easily win any war large or small in Ukraine.  Zelensky is now talking down the crisis. Biden has conceded the US would not intervene. All the US media talk of supporting Ukrainian nationalist insurgencies after an occupation is bluster.

Beyond Ukraine, there are many possible measures Russia could take — economic and military-technical — to emphasise its sovereignty and make the US uncomfortable. He will choose his moment to signal, and he will choose the nature and extent of his signals.

 

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